Heavy work week.

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Did I tell you that I have a content development business? God sent me A LOT of stuff to do this week, I’m telling you what. I’ll put up the next bit of the story once I get over the hump. You’ve heard the most interesting part of it anyway – now it’s just mainly how I met the Beast and eventually moved to Maryland, and now here I am living in a little brick row house where I have been for nearly a year. And in less than two weeks we are going to the Wild West, where I will either get proposed to or else I will not, in which case I will have to wait another two months for my birthday.  But I am going to do my nails (read: TRY to do my nails AGAIN) before we leave just in case.

Anyway I hope y’all are having a wonderful Monday.

One last summer of big baggy shirts: Episode 22

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I tried not to talk to anyone, especially my mother, about my decision to move out. It wasn’t something I wanted to discuss. I figured my father already knew about it, and that was all I really cared about. I figured when it was time for me to go, I would just make the announcement and be gone. That meant that I had to start getting things ready.

That summer was a summer of hard work and intense focus. I tried hard to stay under the radar: I did just enough housework so I wouldn’t get in trouble, and then retreated to the back bedroom and worked quietly on my business for the rest of the day. I took conference calls, I pulled in new clients. I sent out resume after resume after resume and did project after project after project. Checks came in the mail, and once every week or two I asked my father to take me to the bank. I made a Word document called “Money Records” where I kept track of everything I made, everything I spent and everything I banked, in different colors of ink.

I tried not to rock the boat or call attention to myself with my clothes. I wore loose T-shirts and baggy jeans and kept my hair bundled into a clip. I figured I could put my life on hold for a few months and it would be a good investment overall. At Minas Morgul Baptist Church, I wore dark clothes and faded into corners, or hid in the bathroom during breaks between services. During the long, guilt-trippy sermons, I scribbled on sermon note paper, but I was not taking notes. I planned, I made budgets. I tried to figure out exactly how much I would need for food, utilities, rent, gas, insurance and other things each month. I decided that I would budget $5000 to get me started with all of my expenses, and I would leave $5000 in the bank as a buffer. When I had $10,000, I planned to move out.

I decided that I was not going to date anyone, or think about dating anyone, again, as long as I lived at home. I was getting lonely, so that would give me some extra incentive to move out! On another sheet of sermon note paper, I drafted an online dating profile. I decided that once I was settled into my new place, I would put up a profile on Christian Café just to see what would happen.

I also planned my furniture. This was the most fun part. When my brain was tired from working on my business and making endless lists and budgets, I closed my eyes and imagined what my living room, kitchen and bedroom would look like. I figured I could shop at Salvation Army and Goodwill and find some cheap things that would go with the color schemes I had planned. I had never decorated a whole apartment of my own and this was going to be fun.

The centerpiece of my living room was going to be a beautiful Tiffany lamp. Halfway through the summer, I decided I had enough money to buy one, so I ordered it off Amazon and it arrived in a huge box. Stained glass has always made me feel gorgeous inside. I lit up this lamp like a big glowing bonfire and I visualized my living room and my whole apartment around it, with this glowing peacock-colored lamp at the heart. Once I got the lamp, I knew for sure I would be getting out of there.

Something very important happened to me over the summer. I was feeling down one day, after hearing a long guilt-trippy sermon, and I wondered if I was doing the right thing or if God would strike me down dead for trying to escape. I stood in the back bedroom feeling all anxious. Then I suddenly thought: “God, if You’re real, You must be outside of all this. You must be different from what I was taught growing up. God, are You there?” A weird thing happened. It was like I could feel a presence all of a sudden, full of light and full of peace. It was kind of like there was a light shining down into my soul from the top right corner of the room, if that makes any sense. I felt like I was praying to the Unknown God that St. Paul’s pagan people put up the altars to. Ever since then. I have always known that He is there.

Sometime in mid-August, my father drove by an old car junkyard on the side of the road and saw a 1999 Saturn that seemed to be in good condition. He took me out to look at it, I liked it, and I bought it for $2000. I paid cash in an envelope, and I got the title and keys. I had a real car.

I called Geico and got set up with car insurance, because I had heard a Geico ad on the radio that said “Fifteen minutes saves you fifteen percent.” Then I drove straight to Goodwill and bought every plate, mug and piece of silverware that I could see, as well as a second-hand coffee pot, which I loaded into the trunk. I had dishes now! Keeping my remaining budgeted $3000 in mind, I then went to Dollar General and stocked up on cheap toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, soap, shampoo and detergent. For the past couple of months, I had been making about $1500 a month. I didn’t know if I would have enough money for toilet paper next month.

Nothing could stop me now, I was on a roll! I had seen a sign for some apartments near Goodwill, so I drove to the (somewhat shabby) complex and walked into the office. I said, “I would like to rent an apartment, please, how do I go about this?” They gave me a bunch of papers to fill out and told me that I would have to go home and get some check stubs so I could prove I had a business. I drove back home, grabbed them and made it back to the office before they closed for the afternoon. I paid the deposit, I paid some extra money that I guess I had to pay because I was an unknown quantity, I paid the renter’s insurance and I got everything squared away that day. They gave me a big folder of information and told me that I could come get my key in two weeks because that was when the apartment would be ready. The rent was going to be $688 per month, and I figured I could just about handle that.

I went home and told my mother that I had an apartment and I was moving out in two weeks. She looked stunned. I took her over to see the sample apartment on the property and she did not say anything, just stared at me with a frozen face and said “But… But….”

Now I had two weeks to find some furniture. I wanted a red couch, and lo and behold, several days later I saw a red couch sitting by the side of the road. The people were so happy to get rid of it, they delivered it for me! I also got a table and chairs on sale at K-mart, a futon bed, and a comforter and some pillows. Everything else I needed, I found second-hand. I was still under budget, with about $6000 total in the bank at this point.

I called Duke Electric and set up my electricity, and I called Comcast and set up my Internet. My last birthday at home, I was 24 years old. My mother had not really been talking to me, but she gave me a miniature crockpot. My dad helped me more some of my larger pieces of furniture over, but by and large, I moved myself in with no assistance. The first thing I did was plug in my Tiffany lamp. It sat on the floor, and in its glow, I set about putting everything in my cupboards and getting everything all set up.

My lease started on September 18, 2012. I had my own place. I got down on my knees on the carpet and thanked the Real God.

livingroom

To be continued.

Wearing Shorts, And Feeling Good About Them, Too: Episode 21

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Today is summer as you can see!

When I finished the proofreading course, I went in to Dad’s company with him and I proofread a sample project for the head account lady. She said I was very sharp-eyed and they would be glad to take me on as an unpaid proofing intern. The boss sent around an email to everybody at the company telling them that I was here, and I would proof all their things for free.

Starting at the beginning of December, every morning I went in to work with my father and I sat and worked at the end of his long L-shaped desk. Eventually the boss started having me do other things – organizing files, entering information into their online records system – all for no pay, of course. Once in a while he came in and said, “Don’t worry, we won’t forget about you.” He had a big smarmy grin with white teeth. After a month or two, I began to suspect that they were just going to use my services for free forever.

I told my friend Bilbo about this “internship” and he said that he knew a gentleman who worked at one of the larger ad agencies in town. Bilbo suggested that I should send this gentleman my resume and maybe they would have a place for me at the larger agency. My resume did not look very impressive. It had two things on it, my college degree and my “internship” at my father’s company, but I typed it up as nicely as possible and emailed it to Bilbo’s contact at the agency.

Mr. Agency Man emailed me back very nicely and said they would keep my information on file, but they didn’t have anything for me at this time. He also suggested that I do something more “creative” with my resume, since that was the way to get the attention of ad agencies.

I figured, what did I have to lose? So I went home one evening and took a large sheet of Bristol board, and drew a cartoon. It showed me as a little superhero character called “Prooferwoman,” hopping over a series of buildings. The first building was my college, the second building was the agency where I was interning, and the little character soared over these structures on an upward trajectory. The caption said “Send me on a mission,” and my contact information was at the bottom.

Then I scanned this cartoon into the computer and looked up “Greenville, SC ad agencies.” I found the 5 or 6 closest to my house and sent them my resume with an email cover letter. I did know how to write a decent cover letter by this point. This was over the weekend, at the very tail end of January 2012.

On Monday morning, surprise, surprise! I opened up my email at my father’s office and there were three or four requests from different agencies. They all said, “We got your resume, we like it, and we would like you to come in for an interview!”

My father was happy for me! He said he would be glad to take me in for the interviews. A couple of them were at little agencies downtown, one was further out in Spartanburg, and I forget where the other one was. I couldn’t wait for the end of the week.

Now I was motivated! I got on yellowpages.com and started looking up ad agencies in other cities, and then other states. I sent my cover letter and my cartoon to each one, and it was like magic! Responses started to trickle in. “Yes, we have some proofing we would like you to do. Could you proof a sample project for us?” “Would you please call us for a phone interview?” and from one agency in North Carolina, “We don’t need any proofing, but we need someone to write blog posts for us. Could you do a sample post for us, please?”

Now, whenever I was not proofing or organizing things for free at my dad’s agency, I sat there at the desk doing small projects of my own, sending out still more resumes, and – finally – sending out invoices. My first ever invoice was for the agency that needed the blog posts. I charged them $20 a post, and they really liked them and asked me to do more.

My interviews at the local agencies went well, too. I got some proofing work from one of them, and from another one I got an unexpected windfall: $1000 to come in three days a week for the next month and help write content for their rebranding effort.

Suddenly, I had places to go and things to do. I was starting to make some actual money…not very much, but a little bit more each week. My dad said, “You know what? You’re starting a business.” I was a little astonished at myself. I think my dad was a little surprised at how things were taking off, too.

I drew several updated cartoon resumes (in color, this time) and started sending them to agencies in a wider and wider range of cities. I pulled in a client in Chicago, a client in Miami, and another one in Austin, Texas. In the spring, my dad left his company to become an independent contractor, so I left with him. I was at home all day now, but I had a business! I was motivated! When I got my first ever $1000 check from the company in Spartanburg, I was so proud.

My business is called content development. I put every cent of money in the bank. I had a plan: I was going to get out of here.

To be continued.

Wearing jeans in public: Episode 20.

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The blow came in mid-October, when Legolas and I had been courting for a little over five months. My mother logged onto my father’s Facebook account in order to stalk people, and she looked up Legolas’s page and found photographs of his last swing dancing convention. He was dancing with many pretty girls in sleeveless dresses, and something about seeing a swing convention visually just made my mother blow her lid.

Instantly it was DEFCON I. Mom pulled Dad into the bedroom for many secret conferences and they came out and said, essentially, after several days and many fights, that unless Legolas was willing to give up his swing dancing, he would have to break up with me. We got Legolas on the phone. My dad had a long argument with him where Dad said Legolas was full of shit. My mother threatened to kick me out for having a boyfriend who was suddenly persona non grata. “I want you and your unsavory men friends out of my house,” she said. Also: “I am now your enemy. I’m not your friend anymore.”

I still loved Legolas and I wasn’t giving him up that easily. I thought surely he wouldn’t give me up that easily either. For a few days, Legolas and I were still allowed to talk, though we had now been forbidden to see each other next time he came to town. Mom wasn’t speaking to me. I decided to fast until we got all this resolved. (Wonderful idea, I know.) I tried to come up with all these bargains and counterproposals: maybe Legolas could stop dancing till we were married? Maybe Legolas could stop dancing for a while, to “prove” his love for me? Legolas wasn’t crazy about any of these ideas, and Mom shot everything down anyway. Either the dancing was over, or the relationship was over.

Legolas finally called me and told me he didn’t think this was going to work. The dancing was too important to him. He hung up and said “I love you,” and then he called my dad and had another long conversation with him, and officially broke things off with my dad. The end. I was stunned.

What did I do wrong? We were so perfect for each other, and I tried to do everything right. What went wrong?

I don’t blame Legolas at all, really. I wouldn’t have wanted to join my crazy family either, if I were him. I remember after one episode of my mom spinning out of control, he had said to me, “This isn’t going to stop after we get married, you know.” To this day, I’m astonished that anyone has ever wanted to marry any of us kids at all. It takes a special person to put up with my family.

The most important lesson I learned from my breakup with Legolas was this: No one will help you get out. You can’t count on anyone to help you escape.

After the end of my courtship with Legolas, I went into a tailspin. I don’t remember much about the next month or two. Everything was dark. I cried a lot, and I remember playing with some razors in the bathroom and thinking “Why not? Why shouldn’t I?” To make matters worse, the lady I’d been nannying for fired me shortly after the breakup. I truly had nothing going on. It was like my life had come to a sudden and complete halt.

In the fall, my family went to spend Thanksgiving with my grandmother in St. Louis, one year after the assault. I went to pack some clothes for the trip and the act of coming up with any approved outfits to wear seemed utterly overwhelming. I broke down crying. My mother asked what was wrong and I said, “You know…it would be so much easier for me to figure out what to pack if I were just allowed to wear jeans.” Mom looked at me, a little stunned. Then she said, choosing her words carefully, “Well…I guess it would be ok for you to wear some jeans, at this point.”

I had some pairs of Goodwill jeans hidden in the bottom of my dresser, and I pulled them out and wore them in public for the first time in my life. I was 23 years old.

While we were in St. Louis, my dad took me out for a walk in the cold November air. I think he was starting to feel remorseful about what had happened to me over the past few years. He told me that I obviously needed some sort of a jump start in life, and he was going to help me. He suggested that I take an online proofreading course, and then I start doing some free proofreading for his company, a small ad agency. That way I could say I had an internship, I would get some experience, and maybe his company, or some other company, would hire me later. “I want you to start becoming independent,” he said.

Independent? The word felt weird to me. I knew Mom didn’t want me to be independent. She threatened to kick me out whenever she was angry, but when I talked about leaving on my own, she always told me horror stories about how I would never make it on my own and I needed her to protect me.

My dad added, “You know, your mother isn’t really able to handle hearing about other people’s problems. If you ever need to talk to anybody, you can come talk to me.”

Independent. I repeated the word to myself and it felt good on my tongue. At that moment, I felt a small, wild dream sprouting inside me. I would get out. I would get a job, get a car, get a place of my own and move out. And I would do it without any boyfriend to motivate me, either – I would do it just for me.

I went home and signed up for an online proofreading course with the last of my nannying money. I finished it in one week and got an A+.

To be continued.

You Hussy, I Can See Your Bra Under Your Shirt: Episode 19

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The anticipated weekend finally came! Legolas and I were dropped off at Bag End to watch Pride and Prejudice, and then my father dropped us off again downtown and told us he would pick us up again at ten o’clock. We had some coffee at Spill the Beans, and while we were sitting outside in the dark, flower-scented night drinking it, Legolas told me he was “as serious about me as anybody could be” and asked me to be his girlfriend. It turned out he had already talked to my father and gotten his permission, and of course I said yes! I was over the moon.

I couldn’t believe such a wonderful thing had happened to me and I felt as if my life were finally falling into place.

I think the first inkling I had that things were not going to be easy came a few weeks in, when I came into the house after a phone call with Legolas. We were punch-drunk on love, and he was talking about how he felt so happy with me and couldn’t wait to marry me, and he wanted to fly me out to California to meet his family. I was walking on air, and I came into the living room and told my mother. She got a very hard, frozen look on her face and said I was most certainly not going to be allowed to go out to California unchaperoned, and nobody in the family was going to make time to go with me, so unless Legolas’s family came here, that was going to be the end of that. I came down off my cloud with a bump and realized that courtship was not going to be very fun.

It turns out, courtship is almost exactly like the humiliating scenario my mother had laid out so many years before: “If some ‘BOY’ comes and says, ‘I would like to take Kay to the zoo,’ Daddy and I will say, ‘The whole FAMILY will go to the zoo.’ “ We went on a number of complicated family outings, where my little sisters, who loved Legolas, chattered so hard to him that I could not get a word in edgewise. My mother and father held hands on these trips – something they never did at any other time – as if to underscore the fact that THEY were allowed to hold hands, and Legolas and I were NOT. On one of these outings, Legolas put his arm around my shoulders for a picture. Mom got very upset.

Legolas was not used to courtship and did not appreciate all these restrictions. But he played along and put up with everything in the sweetest way possible. He sent me a complicated cipher in the mail, and I solved it after several weeks and it said “I love you.” He brought me books and flowers and emailed me sweet little poems while he was at work.

As Legolas and I fell more deeply in love, my mother began behaving more and more bizarrely and erratically. During his weekend visits, she would randomly burst in and scream at us for things we hadn’t known we were doing wrong: “You’re LYING ON THE GRASS! GET UP!” “You’re USING INAPPROPRIATE AFFECTIONATE LANGUAGE in front of the kids!” (Yes, we dared to say “I love you.” Shocking, I know.) Once, at dinner, Legolas casually mentioned something about a pro-life campaign he’d been involved with. One of my little sisters piped up: “What’s abortion?” My mother screamed at Legolas: “GET OUT OF MY KITCHEN!!!”

I grew to dread the end of the weekend when Legolas would go home, because the minute he drove away, my mother would pounce on me with a list of the things I had been doing wrong. “You were sitting too close to him! I saw you touch his hand! I saw your bra under your shirt! That dress you had on looked like a slip!” She set arbitrary rules and curfews for how long I could talk to him on the phone, and when. I would go out in the backyard for some privacy and if I stayed out a minute after ten (or maybe eleven, I can’t remember), she would lock all the doors on me.

I was not allowed to email him after a certain time at night. Once I got up in the middle of the night because I had thought of a (perfectly innocuous) poem, and emailed it to him. Unwisely, I left my laptop open on the table. My mother got up early in the morning, pulled up my email, saw the 2:30 am timestamp, and ran into the living room where I was sleeping, where she proceeded to pull the exercise mats out from under me and dump me onto the floor, screaming at me for disobeying her. (Oh, yes, that’s right. The couch in the back bedroom was broken, so I was sleeping on exercise mats in the living room at this time.)

Legolas was very active in his church, a conservative Baptist church in Aiken, SC, where he headed up the children’s programs on Wednesday night. We all took a trek down in our huge van to visit his church one Sunday. It was a lovely congregation with warm and welcoming people, and I felt comfortable there. Unfortunately, the music was a little bit bouncy and country-fried, which absolutely horrified my mother. She got very angry on the ride home, would not speak to me for two or three days, and then threatened to kick me out. (Because I loved Legolas and he had the wrong type of music at his church, I guess.) My father eventually pacified her and she subsided into quiet mutters.

My own insecurities also made things difficult. Legolas was very sweet and respectful and never touched me without my permission. He used to ask if he could hold hands with me when we walked around the block. (We were allowed to walk around the block together, and we would hold hands when we were out of sight of the house, and then drop hands when we were in sight.) But I was still processing everything that had happened with Grîma Wormtongue, and any type of physical contact, even completely innocent, scared me. It took a long time for me to be ok with a hug or a peck on the cheek, and I was constantly having small panic attacks, second-guessing and over-analyzing. Legolas assured me that he would never do anything to hurt me, and he never betrayed that trust. But I still had a hard time trusting him. I know that hurt and puzzled him.

My mother kept fanning the flames by bringing up the swing dancing and asking if it made me jealous. I said no, of course not – but the truth was, it did, a little. Legolas got to go out and have fun several times a week with all these pretty girls, while I was stuck at home waiting for him to text me back. Maybe if I had been able to go with him I wouldn’t have been jealous, but I had no way of knowing for sure. I brought the subject up with him a few times, and he assured me that dancing was just fun for him and he wasn’t attracted to anybody there.

At the same time, it was confusing because sometimes Mom would praise me and say I was “doing courtship right” and I was a “good example for my sisters.” She told me that she liked Legolas and that he was a very nice young man, and she put his birthday on the family calendar. I lived for these moments of approval and they made me all the more determined to do things right. I imagined I would have a white wedding in a modest dress with all my relatives smiling approvingly, and after that I could finally escape and go off into the sunset of Augusta, GA.

Legolas was almost my whole life at this point. All my emotional eggs were in this basket and I became more and more dependent on thoughts of him, and thoughts of our future, to get through the day. I thought of us as Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning: two soulmate poets. He would rescue me from my family like Robert rescued Elizabeth, and we would have a happy life full of poetry. I wrote him lots of letters. He wrote me a few in return.

As the summer went on, Legolas got more and more wrapped up in his dancing. Every time he came to see me, he would talk about how much fun he was having and all the marvelous music. He tried to show me some of the steps but I was very clumsy. He emailed me less, and he missed my calls. He had a fun, fulfilling life elsewhere, but I really didn’t have much except him. I had found a job nannying for two Bag End graduate children in a house behind campus, which paid about a hundred dollars a week under the table, but that was all I had going on. I clung desperately to my dreams of marriage because, at this point, they were the only dreams I had.

To be continued.

More men should wear open-collar shirts: Episode 18.

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That was an eventful weekend. On Friday night, my friend Galadriel and her sister picked me up to go to one of our other friends’ senior art show on Bag End campus. Halfway through the evening, Galadriel got a text that said Legolas was in town already, and he wanted to meet us downtown for dessert.

This was exciting! There were three or four of us girls, and we all went downtown to a little tea place, and there was Legolas! I had forgotten how cute he was, with his big blue eyes and his fetching grin. A tiny little bit of chest hair peeped out through his open collar, and he smelled good. Even if he did have a girlfriend, I was tickled pink that he was coming over to my house for lunch tomorrow. We kept exchanging looks and smiles over the table, and when Galadriel and her sister drove me home I was walking on air. Sitting on air in the back seat, I guess.

Galadriel said, “Tomorrow evening Legolas and my sister and I are going to have a chocolate-making party at my house. Do you want to come?”

I said “Well of course!” and they said they would pick me up in the afternoon.

The next morning Legolas arrived for lunch, and he was very polite. He talked to my parents, he talked to my little sisters and he was very charming and friendly. Unfortunately, just when things were going well, towards the end of lunch he mentioned the swing dancing convention. My parents froze up in disapproval. After Legolas left, my mother and father had one of their secret conferences in their bedroom and then my mother said “We don’t want you to talk to him anymore.”

I said “Why?” and she said “Because we didn’t know he was INTO SWING DANCING.”

We had an argument about this, and then when I was getting ready for Galadriel to pick me up, my mother wanted to know if Legolas was going to be at this chocolate-making party. I said yes and she blew up, and we had another huge argument. I went outside to wait for the car, and she followed me out, screaming. “FINE. Just go. Go with YOUR FRIENDS,” in a tone of utter disdain. She slammed the door and I sat down on the rock at the end of the driveway, as far away from her as I could get.

Galadriel, her older sister and Legolas soon arrived, and we all just had a wonderful time. We made chocolate, which didn’t turn out very well, then we went to some other friends’ house for a singspiration. Legolas and I shared a book. Every time we were in the car, he and I shared the back seat.

As Galadriel finally pulled up to my house about 11:00, I said, “I’m in the doghouse.” Legolas asked me why, and I said, “Because they found out you’re into swing dancing.” I got out and went into the house, to be met with icy disdain. My mother wanted to know every detail of the evening, and if Legolas and I had “sat in the back in the car.” I was 22-and-a-half years old and had a college degree, and at this moment I took a brief step back from the situation and decided it was all slightly ridiculous. I went to bed and didn’t engage with her anymore.

The next day there were many secret conferences in the bedroom and my father emerged and said he was going to have to call and talk to Legolas. So I gave him the number, and they went out to have coffee together before Legolas left town. I sat in the kitchen on the floor, feeling nervous. Finally my cell phone buzzed, I picked it up to see a message from Legolas: “Coffee went well, and conversation is permitted.”

I was ridiculously excited. I was still allowed to talk to Legolas! The next day our long email conversations resumed, and I discovered that he did not have a girlfriend, in Atlanta or anyplace else. GALADRIEL WAS WRONG, HA.

The next month or so went by in a dreamlike haze. We emailed and texted constantly, Legolas came up on several weekends, and came over to spend the day with my family. My mother behaved charmingly and made delicious food – we were not eating the Nourishing Traditions diet any more at this point – and everyone was on their best behavior. Legolas went on a number of walks and coffee dates with my father. He and I sat in separate armchairs from each other and talked about art and literature, and there were always siblings bounding in and out of the room. No one brought up swing dancing, and we steered expertly around the subject.

At some point in April, Legolas sent me a letter with a wax seal wherein he asked my permission to go to the Bag End Artist Series production of Pride and Prejudice with me at the beginning of May. (“Pursuant to your father’s permission, of course.”) We were not allowed to ride in a car alone together, so someone would have to drop us off at the play, and then drop us off for ice cream downtown afterwards, and then pick us up. But this would be our first real “date” and I was so very excited.

It was spring and I felt wonderful, as though the air were full of new beginnings. I decided that I was going to do everything “right” this time, and obey all of my mother’s rules, and then God would surely bless me. Maybe if I did courtship right, my parents would love me and approve of me. Maybe if I did courtship right, then I could escape the house and marry this wonderful, charming man with the adorable blue eyes.

To be continued.

Everything Had to Be Loose, But I Could Still Wear Pretty Colors: Episode 17

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Way back when I was still at Bag End, back in October, some of my friends had held a Halloween party off campus. (This was the one that Grîma Wormtongue surprised me and came to, matching me. I was Trinity from the Matrix, which I’d just watched for the first time, and he was one of the villains in the sunglasses – appropriately enough.) At this party, I’d met one of my girlfriend Galadriel’s friends – a charming, gregarious fellow named Legolas. He was very, very smart and had a wide grin and a slight lisp, and he loved swing dancing. Legolas and I had a nice conversation about music and literature at the party, and he and I chatted sporadically on Facebook throughout the rest of the semester. It turned out that he’d been homeschooled too, and had graduated from Palantîr Christian College down in Florida, before becoming a computer programmer in Augusta, GA.

After I told my mother about Grîma Wormtongue , she took away my phone and told me I had to shut down my Facebook immediately. (In her mind, Facebook was some kind of source of contamination that allowed me to communicate with the outside world and meet unsavory people.) I logged on and, before canceling the account, I sent a quick message to a few of my friends, including Legolas, saying that I’d just broken up and I was “taking a bit of a media fast.” (Such a spin artist, I was.) Legolas said “BTDT,” so I was glad he understood.

My good friends Bilbo, Galadriel and several others still communicated with me via email. I am not sure whether my mother knew I had a Gmail address or not, and I wasn’t about to draw her attention to it if she didn’t know. Sometime in mid-January, Galadriel emailed me, “By the way, Legolas asked me to give you his phone number. He said you should give him a call sometime.” And there was the phone number.

I said, “Is he interested in me or something?” And Galadriel said “Oh, I doubt it: I think he just wants to be friendly. He’s a very friendly person and people always think he’s flirting with them. Anyway he has a girlfriend in Atlanta, I think.”

Well, that was a little disappointing, but still, I liked Legolas and enjoyed talking to him. I wrote down the phone number and put it in the top drawer of my tiny dresser and figured that if I ever got another cell phone, I’d give him a call.

Around this time, Bilbo told me that I was doing awfully well as a cashier, “upselling” a lot of things, and he was thinking of promoting me to some sort of manager. I came home and excitedly told my parents this news. A few days later they said to me, “It’s not really working out for you to have this job because it’s too far out of your father’s way to drop you off in the mornings, so you’re going to have to quit.” I was very bummed out about this, but we lived in the backwoods of Greenville, away from any bus stops, and I didn’t really see any other feasible way for me to get there. So sadly, I told Bilbo I would have to quit working at the café. This was at the beginning of February, 2011.

My last day at the job, I had to wait a while for my father to come and pick me up. So I walked a long way down to the Verizon store downtown and used some of my last paycheck to buy a small, pay-as-you-go cell phone. Then I texted Legolas’s number, “Who is John Galt?” He soon figured out it was me, and we had a long, nerdy text conversation.

Eventually the text conversation spilled over into emails, with long discussions of everything under the sun, including shared thoughts and dreams and poetry. Then we started talking on the phone. I was having so much fun, and in a nerdy way, I was definitely flirting. I tried not to think about this girlfriend he had in Atlanta. He was just being friendly, I told myself. But it was so much fun.

He asked me if I wanted to go swing dancing the next time he was in town, because they had beginners’ classes. I thought: It’s a date! He’s asking me out! Maybe? No, he’s just being friendly of course. I said my parents didn’t approve of swing dancing, so I couldn’t go, but thank you.

Now that I wasn’t working at the café, I felt like I was kind of at a loose end. I started sending my music resume to all the schools and studios in the area, seeing if they needed any teachers. I got set up as a teacher at one studio, and I pulled in exactly one student, a young man who asked me out after a few lessons and so of course I told him I couldn’t teach him any more, so that was the end of that. I did some accompanying for the spring festival at a middle school, which was fun, and I met a lady through Craigslist who wanted an illustrator for her self-published children’s book. After getting halfway through the project, she told me she wanted exclusive rights to all the drawings and I couldn’t agree to that, so I gave up the project. I kept on having meaningless fights with my mother, trying to stay out of her way and not succeeding, and having to ask permission for every tiny detail of life. I felt very directionless, and like I was just flapping my wings. My conversations with Legolas, and my occasional outings with my friends from Bag End, gave me something to look forward to.

Then one day Legolas sent me an email that said, “I’ll be in town this weekend for a swing convention. Can I stop by your house for lunch on Saturday?”

Very casually, I went to my mother and said, “You remember that nice young man I told you about, from Palantîr Christian College? Galadriel’s friend? (Mom liked Galadriel.) He wants to come over to our house for lunch on Saturday.” I tactically left out the part about the swing convention, because I was sure that would not go over very well. Surprisingly, she agreed to let him come over for lunch.

I was so excited! Next time we were out, I asked Mom to drop me off at Goodwill and I bought a pretty pink sweater with roses on it, which I knew I would be allowed to wear because it had a high neck and it wasn’t tight. But it was a very pretty color on me.

To be continued.